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Galt Aureus - Heralds to the Sun

It might just be all the liberal education I've been subjected to here at college, but something about ancient Rome intrigues me quite a bit. Something wonderfully vital exists in that time, an era in which duty was considered absolute and the world was somewhere between "emerging civilization" and "plenty of blanks left on the map." It would have been quite the time to live, and I've often wondered what a band of musicians from such an era would tell those of us living nowadays.

San Diego, California's Galt Aureus are the closest we modern music fans can get to experiencing such a Golden Age firsthand. Melding shimmering, polished arena-rock with the stately stoicism of the symphony, Galt Aureus were a fresh enough approach to alternative rock that I wrote a special feature on them about five months ago despite the fact they had but two songs to their name. Dropping debut full-length Heralds to the Sun in my mailbox, I find myself alternately perplexed, enamored, and overjoyed by the music contained on said album. It has been an exceedingly long time since something this light (save for outright folk music, always a winner in my book) not only impressed me but actually made me want to listen more; Galt Aureus attack with a sincere, quiet intensity not unlike the warming rays of the Sun slowly thawing a frozen heart. It is as if I'm more hooked with each successive listen; the band has a definite knack for luring one back with sly tracks that appear simplistic at first glance but betray much deeper nuances later on. It is in summary a labyrith of chillingly somber rock, the likes of which will surprise and dazzle you with a moody twist there, a soaring turn here.

The majestic "Finis Coronat" is a gliding orchestral piece which has some powerful spoken words. At one point, the splashing percussion and poignant strings go plunging right off a cliff as frontman Saher whispers with hushed urgency; the orchestra explodes behind him with renewed vigor and should wow plenty of jaded listeners.

"The Glass of Fashion" follows this urgency with a gradual comedown to more relaxed climes. A delicate, sugary, and breezy mix of tight guitar flourishes, driving choruses, and pounding piano keys, this song never gets too serious but is by no means easy to forget. Joyous and straightforward, the song's jarring earnestness makes it that much more memorable; it is so simple in its joy it has that much more staying power.

The simple joy brought on by "The Glass of Fashion" makes "All Lights Fade" that much more incredible. A clean guitar wash leads into a slowly building post-rock anthem that soars like a tawny eagle unfettered by normal constraints. The melodies are slick and seamless; they feel so natural it is as if the guitars are breathing on your goosebump-ridden neck. The song ends on a real cliffhanger, the kind that is moody and leaves you desperate for answers.

Said finale is the perfect transition into what is possibly the album's shining glory in "Dark." A romantic piano ballad that is sparse, minimal, and earnest, this song is so graceful and elegant you can't help but admire its austere sincerity. At times, frontman Saher lets his voice crack a bit before rising into new highs of moody splendor; it all adds real emotional levity to the theme of the composition. Guitarist Susan slowly palm-mutes her way into the forefront, her restrained and ethereal guitar making things even more sublime. Great stuff!

"A Secret Dies" treads a silvery-thread between soaring arena rock not unlike ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead and recent A.F.I. with the quiet maturity of acts like Coldplay or Bush. Susan's swansong vocals provide an excellent backdrop to Saher's fiery moans, and a twinkling constellation of guitar/piano interplay towards song's end will dazzle and blind the mind's eye of each and every listener.

"The Errant Humble" was one of the original songs I featured so long ago, and it sounds even better here. As a swirling orchestra hums, both vocalists duel with interwining melancholy before a delicate piano spars with the quiet thrust of clean guitar note after clean guitar note. The song builds itself from the ground up; things start with a humble piety before evolving later on into a rousing sing-along full of fire and gold. It is still a fantastic track, and despite all the heavy competition around it, "The Errant Humble" remains a Galt Aureus musical highlight. The fiery solo mid-song will conjure images of Phoenix like-rebirth, and from there the song spirals like twirling ash into its stunningly sad end.

"Fall, The Legions" is the other original song, and it starts with its trademark sinister hum and bouncing guitar acrobatics. It is a breathless, swirling, and inspiring anthem to the glory days of the Pax Romana. "Legions" is a real champion, stabbing with all the measured strength of a Hoplite and exalting long-dead spirits of honor and duty.

"Six Ships" is so absurdly quiet with its velvety strings, stark piano, and almost-hidden guitar picking I have to turn my stereo up everytime. As annoying as that sounds, it is definitely worth it as this is a song aeons ahead of similar music by other acts. Gloomy, surreal, and fantastic, there is something very noir-ish going on with this tune. It sounds like an unholy matrimony between Devotchka and Sing the Sorrow era A.F.I., and I think I'll speak for a lot of people when I say that gothic elegies such as this are always welcome.

"And We've Just Begun" is a largely orchestra-based composition that relies on catchy piano melodies and the constantly strong vocal work of both singers. It isn't always the most impressive or powerful of songs, but "Begun" holds its own and has an unique ability to be stuck into your head for days at a time.

The incredibly sinister "Veneficus Ruinae" delves into depths of horror I didn't know the band was capable of. With tons of organ, archaic Latin, and dank hymns, Galt Aureus builds a song that could fit the fall of Rome in a soundtrack of sorts....or accompanied Bela Lugosi's Dracula as he drank the blood of fair, unsuspecting maidens. It is a very welcome surprise and a thematic I hope the band will someday return to.

The mournful opus "Silence" is the proverbial bow on the gift that is the music of Galt Aureus. Yes, it is short and vaguely anti-climatic. But could this be what the band is trying to achieve? It is as if this short orchestra piece is intended to leave unanswered questions and lingering desire. Regardless, it is a bold way to end the album but somehow it wouldn't feel right anyother way; the more I listen to the CD, the more I feel that the sense of melancholy this track leaves one hanging with is a pivotal piece to the puzzle.

In closing, Heralds to the Sun showcases a young, extremely ambitious band whom tread the realms of day and night with equal determination. At times light and joyous, at times dark and icy, sometimes lusty and at others restrained, the songs on Heralds to the Sun are quite akin to the dancing rays of solar light all over this little sphere we call Earth; they touch a lot of different locales and warm a lot of different hearts. There is something for everyone here and the band has plenty of ideas to work with when it comes to carving their own niche. As Heralds reaches its grand finale time and time again, one can't help but realize that Galt Aureus has been working steadily backwards; the album slowly untangles itself to reveal an entirely classical base. This forced retrogression has gives off all sorts of thematic possibilities; could the band favor a return to classical virtue? Do they see themselves as the voice of a forgotten past? Perhaps that music of any age can coexist with its later variants? Regardless, Galt Aureus are the venerable vanguards of an era long since dead; in paying tribute to the past, perhaps one can better the future. Keep your eyes on this one folks.

Track Listing
1. Finis Coronat
2. The Glass of Fashion
3. All Lights Fade
4. Dark
5. A Secret Dies
6. The Errant Humble
7. Fall, The Legions
8. Six Ships
9. And We've Just Begun
10. Veneficus Ruinae
11. Silence



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